Friday, December 14, 2018

He Knew We Would

Like many classrooms, a lot of our stuff is stored in cabinets and on shelves (and atop cabinets and shelves) in the classroom itself. Before the children arrive, I chose what aspects of the "third teacher" will be available to them, which means only a fraction of our toys are "open" on any given day. I suppose, ideally, we wouldn't have to resort of in-class storage, and that the cabinets and shelves would be home to an ever rotating collection of things that are always "open," but the realities of our space makes that impossible.

During the first week or so of class, children who are new to our school often want to get out more toys. With the older kids, they'll usually ask if they can play with this or that, while the younger kids just start rummaging around. This is not a hard thing to do given that most of our shelves are covered by curtains that are easily pushed aside.

People often ask me, why, if we have a play-based, child-lead curriculum, I don't just let the kids decide what they want to play with and when? Why are some things "closed?" The short answer is because otherwise it's simply too much.

Researchers tell us that the more toys children have, especially for kids under five, the less they actually play. According to Kathy Sylvia, professor of education psychology at Oxford University:

When (children) have a large number of toys there seems to be a distraction element, and when children are distracted they do not learn or play well.

Michael Malone, professors of early childhood education at the University of Cincinnati says:

More is not necessarily better. This is a myth that needs to be extinguished from western suburban culture. Our work shows that having fewer toys is associated with less solitary play and increased sharing. Conversely, too many toys can cause a sense of 'overload'.

While every child is different, the ballpark recommendation is that two dozen toys is a good number for a preschool aged child. That sounds about right for the classroom as well. Yesterday, for instance, I chose to "open" our Duplos, a felt play set, and some sewing cards. There was rice, tubes, and funnels in the sensory table. We made cinnamon dough ornaments. There was also regular play dough along with a collection of related tools, like cookie cutters and pizza wheels. And there is always stuffed animals, books, baby dolls, devil duckies, our "every day" cars, costumes, and a few other odds and ends.

It was enough.

When a child wants more, however, I will say something like, "You want to play with that. Would you like it to be open tomorrow?" Some of them plead or even cry. But this only happens with the kids who are new to us, and even then only during the first few days of school. The children who have been with us for awhile know the score. 

For instance, yesterday a boy asked, "Can we play with the trains tomorrow?"

I answered, "Yes," and he was satisfied because he knew we would.

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